By Allison Woods
Menstruation is a biological function that regularly occurs in every woman’s life, which is why it should be discussed more often. The process occurs during a greater part of a woman’s life, starting from their pre-adolescence until the late middle age. A girl’s curiosity regarding this monthly cycle can even start at an earlier age, as previously discussed in one of our articles regarding periods.
However, conversations about periods have always been limited. Menstruation is often discussed in hushed and discreet voices, as if it’s something to be ashamed of. More than half of female and male respondents in a study even agreed that there’s a stigma around menstruation. This dangerous culture is prevalent across borders and generations, and it has harmed the female population in many ways.
Societies’ Perception of Menstruation
Menstruation is a normal biological process that has been tied with feelings of disgust and shame across many cultures. Women don’t inherently hate this natural process. Instead, they are taught by their society and their cultures that their periods cause them to become dirty and impure. Every month, women all over the world have to suffer mentally and emotionally because of the negative perceptions and ideas that are linked to menstruation.
A Danger to the Society
In various countries, the lack of proper education threatens the safety and health of many girls. Due to the negative associations with menstruation, members of different cultures are not informed about this integral part of their own reproductive health. A study conducted by UNICEF revealed that one out of three girls in South Asia were oblivious to the menstrual process prior to getting it. As a result, almost half of the respondents from Iran and 10% of girls in India believed that menstruation is a disease. In many local communities in Bangladesh, on the other hand, young girls are told to bury their menstrual cloths in the ground to avoid getting possessed by evil spirits. Furthermore, they are also instructed to obscure their cloths from men because the blood may cause misfortune among them.
The Need to Conceal Periods
A paper on the social stigma surrounding menstruation also pointed out that the marketing of sanitary products has contributed to these harmful perceptions. Advertisements often emphasize that leakages would lead to embarrassment and shame. Hygiene products are constantly marketed for their ability to hide any visible signs of one’s period. For instance, the design of tampons and pads is highlighted for their ability to properly absorb fluids and to remain unnoticed through one’s clothes. The study stated that these details have made a significant impact in making ladies feel more self-conscious about their period, which is why plenty of women put a great deal of effort to conceal it. Consequently, these themes of these advertisements have also caused other people to judge women who are experiencing leakages or showing visible signs of sanitary products.
The Consequences of these Stigmas
The misinformation and disregard for periods is a serious problem that can threaten the futures of many girls. Several women have compromised their budgets, education, health, and safety because of society’s contempt against menstruation.
Social Isolation and Death
Women in developing countries are socially isolated during their menstrual cycle because they are perceived as impure individuals in this state. In fact, women in rural Ghana are forbidden from cooking food or entering a house with a man because it is believed that they may contaminate other people. Menstrual huts are also established in countries like Venezuela and Nepal to banish girls who are considered unclean and untouchable during their periods. However, in 2017, Nepal criminalized the use of these huts after several girls died due to suffocation and dehydration.
Inaccessible Sanitary Products
Furthermore, the stigma against menstruation has caused sanitary products to be unhygienic and unaffordable in several countries, including the US. Majority of US states consider sanitary pads and tampons as luxury items, which means it gets taxed by four to ten percent. On the other hand, items like Viagra and lip balms are considered as necessities and are exempt from sales tax. Moreover, women in US prisons do not have enough access to sanitary products, causing them to overuse fully absorbed sanitary pads. It was only in 2017 when the Federal Bureau of Prisons issued a memo to provide free pads and tampons to women in prison.
In other countries, girls resort to using newspapers, toilet papers, or old rags in lieu of sanitary products. Unfortunately, these unhygienic materials can make them more vulnerable to vaginal and urinary tract infections. Some girls even skip school throughout their menstrual cycle because they do not have access to these products. As a result, they miss at least four to five days’ worth of classes every month.
Ending the Stigma surrounding Menstruation
Proper Reproductive Health Education
Healthcare professionals must educate women—and men—regarding the process and the importance of menstruation to put an end to the stigma. Public health nurses and nurse educators are just two of the nursing careers that are trained to educate the public on important health matters like menstruation. These healthcare professionals can spread awareness among young girls and women on how they can properly manage the symptoms of their periods, observe hygienic practices, and why these steps are important for their overall health. Furthermore, pediatricians should also educate young girls who are on the cusp of getting their menstruation so that they can be prepared when it comes to the management of their first cycle. It’s important for communities to rely on insight from qualified professionals, who can also debunk myths surrounding periods and ultimately help end the stigma that is associated with it.
Accessibility of Sanitary Products
Plenty of girls can attend school and remain healthy once they have enough access to hygienic sanitary products. Thus, non-profit groups like On the Dot and the Period Project are bridging the gap by providing sanitary products to several schools in Tennessee. Finally, policies regarding taxes must be amended to make sanitary products more affordable to girls and women in the US.
You can also help end the stigma surrounding menstruation by taking part in our Feminine CARE Donation Program. Through your donations and your purchases, several girls from local communities across the US can get access to safe and hygienic sanitary products. You make a difference in the lives of many girls by supporting our program now!
Alison Woods is a part-time writer and a full-time mom. She feels most accomplished when her two daughters enjoy her home-baked goods.
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